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Congress passes CR - Appropriations bill kicked down the road

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that on Oct. 1, the government did not shut down and the United States did not default on its financial obligations. Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) and suspended the debt limit through Dec. 8.

The bad news is that, once again, Congress passed a CR instead of passing a defense appropriations bill before the start of the new fiscal year. They “kicked the can” down the road instead of fulfilling their most basic constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense.

Although CRs temporarily keep the government open at last year’s funding levels, they are inefficient and costly, and increase the risk to our service members.

The money is in the wrong buckets, at the wrong amounts, and starting new programs isn’t allowed. The capabilities that our soldiers need will be delayed once again. The defense industrial base is also damaged every time contracts must be delayed because of a CR.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis sent a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain clearly detailing the damage that a CR will do to readiness, training, maintenance and national security.

However, the die is cast, the CR passed and now the crisis shifts to December. Let’s hope our potential enemies hold off on any provocations or hostilities until an FY18 defense appropriations bill can be passed.

In other news, at the time this column was written, the Senate was debating their version of the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The defense policy bill would authorize funding above the level of the President’s budget request, and even further above the defense budget cap in the Budget Control Act (BCA). Passage of the NDAA is a first step toward achieving adequate defense funding, but many additional steps need to follow.

A bipartisan budget act is needed to allow defense appropriations to exceed the cap mandated by the BCA. Currently there is no Congressional movement on this front, but without this new law, sequestration would be triggered to nullify any funds that exceed the cap.

Additionally, a defense appropriations bill needs to be passed by the Senate, and a conference agreement must be reached with the House. Then, a compromise bill must pass both the House and the Senate, and be signed by the President before we can start rebuilding our military.

All this needs to happen in the limited legislative days remaining before Dec. 8.

Meanwhile, Congress will be struggling to put together a tax reform bill and find a compromise on immigration, the Dreamers and the border wall.

While we have temporarily “dodged the bullet” of a government shutdown, there is potential that a Congressional meltdown in December could produce a year-long CR, which would be dangerous and disastrous for defense.

Your AUSA Government Affairs team will be monitoring the situation, meeting with key staffers and Members, and working to prod the Congress to do their job. However, given the unpredictable nature of politics in Washington these days, who knows how this will all play out.

See you on the high ground.